President Biden visits Santa Cruz Co. towns damaged by storms

Friday, January 20, 2023
Biden visits Santa Cruz Co. towns damaged by storms
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President Biden visited Santa Cruz County on Thursday to tour communities damaged by recent storms in California.

CAPITOLA, Calif. (KGO) -- President Biden's visit to Capitola was quick but impactful. This community was one of the hardest hit by flooding from days of rain and storms on the coast.

The deadly storms caused devastation across the region and killed more than 20 people statewide.

On Thursday, the president got to see with his own eyes the devastation that is still left behind. It was a bittersweet reason for the president to be in town, but it brought motivation and energy to a community who desperately needs it.

VIDEO: Pres. Biden gives briefing from Santa Cruz County

Owners of businesses who got to meet the president say they hope this is the boost the town needs to push forward.

"He said, 'I'm going to help you out,'" The Sand Bar owner Jeff Lantis said. "And I believe him. It was great to have him come out and show the support."

"It's huge, he brought a sense of community, I mean you can see all the support that he had here," Zelda's on the Beach co-owner John Ealy said. "The business owners have been supportive of each other, we've all been working together as a team. It's not just one of us trying to open, it's all of us trying to re-open. I just think him being here was just supporting the community."

The journey back will be difficult, but this community says it will be worth it.

VIDEO: Pres. Biden tours flooding, mudslide damage from storms in Santa Cruz County

Santa Cruz County was among the hardest-hit parts of California from the wet and windy weather. The county had estimated damage to its public infrastructure at $55 million as of Wednesday, with likely more than 1,000 homes affected.

Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Deanne Criswell, speaking to reporters on Air Force One earlier Thursday, said a lot of the coastal impact during the storms was caused by loose timber left behind from devastating wildfires in 2020 that washed out to sea, but then crashed back ashore in heavy surf, damaging infrastructure like the Capitola Pier and Seacliff State Beach in Aptos.

Storm damage: Here's before-and-after look at hardest-hit areas in Capitola, Santa Cruz

Biden during his visit to the region was joined by Gov. Gavin Newsom, U.S. Sen. Alex Padilla, D-California, and other federal, state and local officials, and he also met with first responders, business owners and local residents in both Capitola and Aptos.

"It was devastating here what happened," he said of the damage, vowing that federal agencies would help the region rebuild. "We are not leaving until you build back and build back better."

Zach Friend previously worked on the Obama-Biden campaign and now serves as Santa Cruz County Supervisor. He says the president showed an amazing amount of empathy and understanding to a community that has suffered so much.

"He has an amazing amount of empathy and an amazing amount of understanding - he's been through a lot in his life and it shows," Friend said. "I mean, he was able to immediately connect with the stories he was hearing from the business owners, to immediately connect with the stories he was hearing from some of the residents, and also some of the stories I was sharing with him about what this means to the community. Not just to have him here, but to have some of these things destroyed or taken away."

After Biden's tour of the region, he was set to leave Santa Cruz County via the helicopter from Watsonville to head back to Moffett Field, and then planned to fly on Air Force One from there back to Washington, D.C.

VIDEO: Homes, highway hit by major flooding in Gilroy through height of evening commute

Bay City News contributed to this report.

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